For Whom The Bell Tolls

17 Aug

I often think with sadness of dead people I never knew. Robin Williams now of course, but also Humphrey Bogart, James Mason, Christopher Reeve, Errol Flynn, Houdini, Charles Laughton, Robert Shaw and many other film stars, since they flit so vividly across our screens and minds – but not only screen icons: also of Captain Salt, killed in the Atlantic Conveyor hit by an Argentinian exocet, Jean Moulin of the French resistance, Joseph Salk of the polio vaccine, Carl Sagan of “Cosmos”, Lawrence Oates, Anne Frank (and the millions like her), Wilfred Owen, Frederic Chopin – even poor old Harold Wilson and many others.

Why did these people’s deaths affect me so much and why do I still so often think of them? And then I remember my favourite poem, one of the most sublime ever written:

For Whom The Bell Tolls John Donne

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manner of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

“Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, no. 17”
– (Meditation) – 1624 (published)

This philosophy is behind humanitarian interventions, which of course may have to occasionally include military action to save people. When, how, where and how much are usually impossible to quantify, and easy to get wrong. But doing NOTHING AT ALL in the face of evil is a non-starter.

We cannot do EVERYTHING, but we can almost always do SOMETHING.


Posted by on August 17, 2014 in Core Thought


5 responses to “For Whom The Bell Tolls

  1. Jean Anderson

    December 6, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    Chris, you will not remember me; I was a pupil at Dane Court in the early seventies, and I remember you, and your lessons with fondness. We were lucky to have a teacher like you, and life is too short for me not to thank you! One thing you taught me has, however, caused me many difficulties over the years. I had a (well deserved) detention and had to chant ‘il n’y a pas de quoi’ for about ten minutes. Whenever I have come out with this phrase since, people have been so Impressed with my French that they start speaking at a rate I cannot understand!
    I have had many happy holidays in France with my family and my school girl French has got us by. It is lovely to see that you are still active, still learning and still sharing your ideas.
    I have taught, myself, for many years…and I only hope that my lessons were as fun and instructive as I remember yours to be.

  2. Chris Snuggs

    December 6, 2014 at 2:23 pm

    Jean – what a surprise …. the only former pupil I know about is Elizabeth Severn. After years of living abroad I am now back in Ramsgate and drive past Dane Court almost every day.

    “Merci” is an abbreviation of “Je vous remercie.”, which means “I thank you.”

    “Il y a” means “there is”

    “Il n’y a pas” means “There is not ..”

    “Il n’y a pas de quoi.” is an abbreviation of ..

    “Il n’y a pas de quoi me remercier.” =

    “There is nothing to thank me for.”, or as one usually says “It’s a pleasure.”

    Thank you for your comments. The appreciation of former pupils is very dear to the hearts of ageing teachers! It makes us think our lives were not totally pointless.

    I wish you all the best.


    • Jean Anderson

      December 6, 2014 at 4:02 pm

      Wow! You were quick to reply. I promise not to stalk you….but let me apologise for the vile child I was. I think you must have been near the beginning of your teaching career and 2H must have been every teacher’s nightmare. If it is any consolation, I was ‘rewarded’ for my wicked past with my first students at Canterbury College. They were worse than I used to be. Trust you are well, happy and enjoying retirement.
      PS thank you for the final French lesson!

  3. Chris Snuggs

    December 6, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    Before I decide whether your stalking me would be an attractive proposition you’d have to send me a photo!

    I don’t remember any “vile” children in England, but I did come across a few in Germany. However, that was 30 years after Dane Court and I think that manners and discipline have disintegrated somewhat just about everywhere since then. I have a leaving card signed by DC kids somewhere; I’ll have a look for your name on it!

    I remember quite a few of the teachers from 1970 to 1973, and I can visualize some of the children’s faces, but the names have slipped from the memory. Anyway, I am touched to be remembered – and THIS time for the right reasons!

    If you are in teaching (or even if not) you might like some of the stuff on one of my other sites, particularly the jokes. Some of the latter are quite good for kids. I use them in language teaching – or used to, being sort of retired.

  4. Jean Anderson

    December 6, 2014 at 5:31 pm

    You have just made the thirteen year old inside me very happy! Chris, I loved you!! But, alas, your request for a photo has come 40 years, four children and three husbands too late!
    I have retired…my late husband had cancer for five long years and my present husband was diagnosed with it seven months after our marriage. When he got the ‘all clear’ we decided life was too short to work…and so I stopped and we travel. My French comes in very handy, but I also have a smattering of Dutch and Italian.
    I am glad that you do not remember any vile English children, I have felt guilty all these years!
    You may have forgotten the children, but do you remember a rhyme that began,
    Christopher John goes to bed with his teddy, His little night shirt and his hat on his head(y)?
    I remember the rest, but it is politic to stop there!
    I remember you with such fondness, though…and I would be pleased to hear that you are well and happy.
    With best wishes,
    Jean. (Jeanette Williams, in the 70’s).


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